Category Archives: Reviewed by Linda

Under the Jeweled Sky by Alison McQueen

Under the jeweled sky

As the only child of a doctor and his unhappy wife, Sophie Schofield is a lonely child trying to cope with her father’s absence during World War II and her mother’s cold hatred.  When her father is demobilized, the family gets a chance to move to India.  Sophie and her father hope that a new environment will improve their lives and brighten their hopes for the future.  In the Maharaja’s lush palace, Sophie becomes part of a world she could only imagine, but she remains lonely until a chance meeting with young Jagaan Ramakrishnan, the son of one of the king’s bearers.  Under the backdrop of India’s independence and partition, the two become fast friends, but Sophie knows that if her parents learn of the growing closeness of these two young people from very different worlds, tragedy will follow.

This is a beautiful story of two very different worlds that collide with devastating consequences.  When, as an adult, Sophie returns to India, she finds it difficult to fit into the constricted world of her husband’s colleagues and learns too late that Jag has not forgotten her.

Fever by Mary Beth Keane

Fever

“Typhoid” Mary is brought to life in this compelling work of historical fiction. Mary Mallon emigrates to New York from Ireland on the eve of the 20th century, where she works her way up from being a lowly laundress to a respected cook. A tough, independent woman, Mary is sought after by rich and powerful families in the city for her cooking skills. But, as she moves from family to family, a chilling pattern emerges. Although Mary enjoys robust good health, family members and their staffs seem unusually prone to the fevers and ill health associated with typhoid, and the weakest succumb to the disease.

One determined “medical engineer”  doggedly researches her movements and identifies her as an “asymptomatic carrier” of the deadly sickness, making her a hunted woman. Mary is arrested and moved to an isolated island where ill New Yorkers are quarantined. She is eventually released, but forbidden to work as a cook. Her stubborn refusal to believe the truth about herself leads her to seek jobs under assumed names, and to evade the regular testing she has been ordered to endure. The disease continues to spread wherever she goes.

As her story unfolds, early 20th-century Manhattan comes alive. Mary is a fiercely dramatic character who captures your imagination and sympathy, even as you wish for a happy ending that will never come true.

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Team of Rivals

If you have seen Steven Spielberg’s new movie, Lincoln, you may be hungering for more information about the president that many historians consider America’s greatest leader.  The fight for ratification of the 13th Amendment, perhaps Lincoln’s most important accomplishment, is but one of the topics of the book.  Lincoln’s uncanny ability to understand and work with a wide array of  officials, both in Congress and in his own Cabinet, is documented in dazzling detail and reader-friendly history.  The book, published in 2005, documents Lincoln’s successful presidential campaign, his efforts to achieve victory for the Union in the Civil War, and his struggle to give the war a lasting legacy through the permanent emancipation of slaves.  Additionally, in Lincoln’s efforts we see the beginning of the modern presidency and politics. This is a “must” read for anyone who can’t get enough about politics and Civil War history and the role of each in shaping our nation.

The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman

Tom Sherbourne has survived the horrors of World War I and trains to become a lighthouse keeper on a tiny island off the desolate coast of Western Australia. When a chance meeting with a young woman leads to enduring love, the couple settle on the island, and their marriage flourishes despite the harsh land and the isolation of their lives.  The one problem they cannot solve is  Isabel’s inability to have a child.  So, when a small boat carrying a dead man and a newborn infant washes onto their shore, it seems like the answer to their prayers.  Their love for the child knows no bounds, so the decision to keep her simply evolves, and it is easy for Isabel to put thoughts of the child’s identity aside. But Tom struggles with the morality of the decision, setting the couple on the road to despair.

The moral dilemma that the story presents is heartbreaking.  The reader can clearly feel the desperation and loss that result from the couple’s tragic secret.  This is a book that compels attention, making it hard to put down.  This is a riveting debut from Ms. Stedman that leaves the reader wanting more.

In Sunlight and in Shadow by Mark Helprin

In post-World War II Manhattan, veteran Harry Copeland has returned to the city he loves to begin his life after serving as an elite paratrooper behind enemy lines in Europe. The family business, manufacturing fine leather goods, awaits his return.  But on a late spring morning on the Staten Island ferry, Harry’s life is upended when he sees a  young woman across the deck. When they meet, the magic is instant, but the beautiful heiress is already engaged to be married.

Their romance develops despite the rigid social traditions of the time, but their choices threaten not only Harry’s livelihood but their very lives. Only Harry’s wartime experiences give him the means to protect Catherine and their future.

While this is a mesmerizing love story,  the language is the most compelling part of the work. Mr. Helprin’s descriptions of New York and its residents are breathtakingly beautiful with evocative prose that allows the reader to experience the sounds and images of 1940s  Manhattan and the battlefields of Germany.

 

The Homecoming of Samuel Lake: a novel by Jenny Wingfield

Each year, on the first Sunday in June, the Moses family gathers for a reunion on their farm in Arkansas.  For daughter Willadee, with her preacher husband Samuel Lake and their three children, the chance to be with her parents is precious.  This year, however, the entire family must cope with the loss of their father and the Lake family faces additional stress when they learn that Samuel will not have a church to pastor in the coming months.  As the summer unfolds, the children thrive on the farm and become friends with the son of a brutally cruel father on an adjacent farm.  By summer’s end, Samuel and his family will find their faith and family tested as tragedy strikes.

This beautifully told story demonstrates the power of family, faith, and a belief in the possibility of miracles.  Its spirited young heroine, Swan Lake, is a child who captures the reader’s  imagination, alternately making you want to laugh, then cry with her audacity.  A powerful read!

Nightwoods by Charles Frazier

Charles Frazier, the author of the best selling  Cold Mountaun and  Thirteen Moons, hits a home run  once again with  Nightwoods, the intriguing and suspenseful story of a young woman living a solitary, isolated life in rural North Carolina.  Luce is content with her life as the caretaker of an abandoned lodge, far from the nearest small town.  Her harsh upbringing has led her to belive that people will only hurt and disappoint her, so she lives off the land, with only rare human contact.  Her world is upended when she becomes the guardian of her murdered sister’s children.  Damaged by witnessing their mother’s brutal murder, they will not speak and are interested only in setting fires.  As she struggles to find  a way to bring the children back to reality, Luce also finds her own life opening to both hopeful and sinister elements that will alter her views forever.  Although set in the  1960s, this timeless story will touch readers who enjoy stories with lush settings and compelling, characters.